Onward we trek with our Midterm 25 Under 25 series, which reaches its fourth part today. If you missed any of the earlier parts:
And now, we move to the top 10.
No. 10: Nick Cousins - F, Philadelphia, NHL
It’s timely that Cousins shows up on our countdown today, after he played what was possibly his best game of the season last night in Calgary. Cousins scored the Flyers’ only goal of the night, had the best 5-on-5 shot differential of any Flyers skater, and drew two penalties including a major for spearing, all while clearly be throwing Flames skaters off their game and out of their composure at multiple points in the contest. The strong possession numbers are hit-or-miss for Cousins, and the scoring is more of a bonus, but Cousins’ calling card in the NHL is going to be that of a pest who drives his opponents nuts and goads them into stupid penalties — per minute, he’s currently the most effective Flyer at drawing penalties, an important skill to have for a team that’s so reliant on its power play.
Where does Cousins stand with the team long-term, though? It’s unclear exactly how much Dave Hakstol likes him, or where the team sees him in the lineup. Cousins played a role in the Flyers’ massive bottom-6 improvement in the second half of last season, only to see the coach scratch him in a crucial game in the final week of the season against Toronto. This season, after signing his one-year tender offer last summer, Cousins has spent time just about everywhere, from the center to the wing, and from the second line to the press box. (He also seems to be a preferred choice of Dave Hakstol in shootouts, but after going 2-for-4 in the skills competition last season, he’s cooled off this year to the tune of 0-for-6.)
Still, despite the uncertainty, Cousins does seem to fit the profile of a useful bottom-6 player, even in today’s NHL. He’s not a drag possession-wise (he’s been slightly positive relative to his teammates this year), he can score at least a little bit, and he’s got a skill that makes him useful outside of lighting the lamp (penalty drawing). The kind of guy who’s probably a fourth-liner on a great team, but isn’t exactly out of place on a third line. If the uncertainty we’ve seen in the Flyers’ handling of him this year is real, Cousins could be someone that Las Vegas looks to take in the expansion draft this summer. But if it’s not and the team protects him, he figures to have the inside track on a spot in the bottom-6 for the next couple of years, even with the competition that may be coming from a number of guys we’ve already talked about in this series. Just ... cool it with the shootouts, Hak.
— Kurt R.
No. 9: Samuel Morin - D, Lehigh Valley, AHL
Our speaking about Morin today is also timely, as he was suspended by the AHL for two games earlier today for cross-checking an opponent into the boards on Tuesday. It’s an unfortunate yet not-totally-unexpected development for the big young defenseman, who’s long played with a physical streak and was famously referred to as a “tough”, “mean” Flyer when he was drafted back in 2013. But let’s put the suspension aside and look big-picture here.
While you would maybe like to see a few more points from Morin in his second AHL season, the expectation for him was never that he was going to be scoring like a Shayne Gostisbehere. In a league that is getting faster at the expense of size, Morin has plenty of both of those attributes, and those along with what are, by all accounts, an excellent work ethic and improving on-ice awareness are what he’ll need as he tries to fit the mold of a modern-day stay-at-home defenseman. Morin is already one of the Phantoms’ top penalty-killing defensemen, which is a good sign for his development.
The question for Morin and his fit in today’s game has always been this: how’s his play with the puck on his stick? You can be a good puck-moving defenseman without scoring much, but there’s almost a baseline for how good a defenseman is on the puck for them to be successful nowadays. Highland Park Hockey’s Tim Riday said earlier this year that Morin’s been improving on this front, which is good to hear. But it wouldn’t be surprising if Morin’s the kind of guy who works best with more of a puck-controlling type of defenseman, the way he has been for much of the season in Lehigh Valley with Travis Sanheim. That would free up Morin to do the things he does best — play a strong physical game, cover in the defensive zone, snuff out rushes and deny players from getting speed going in the neutral zone — but with a skillset that hopefully has him much more prepared to take on the speedy lineups he’ll face in the NHL than your typical stay-at-home type.
— Kurt R.
No. 8: Philippe Myers - D, Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL
Philippe Myers burst onto the scene as an undrafted free agent signing right before the 2015-16 season. To back up a little bit, he was undrafted in 2015 probably because he only put up 8 points in 60 games the previous season. He wasn’t as highly rated either, garnering rankings in the mid 100’s by ISS Hockey and NHL Central Scouting. Myers came into training camp on an amateur tryout and signed an entry level deal before going back to juniors. We all know the story from here as he blew scouts and fans away with a monster 15/16 season where he put up 45 points (17 G, 28 A) in 63 games with a +52 rating. There was no doubt had the Flyers not signed Myers, he would have been a slam dunk 1st round pick in 2016. What makes Myers so special? At 6’5, 210 lbs, he is already a gifted skater and has the offensive acumen to boot. He sees the ice well and can use his big body to make plays at both ends of the ice. Oh, he is also right-handed and those guys are pretty coveted.
Myers’ 2016-17 has not gone as planned. When he’s been on the ice, Myers has dazzled us with plays like this and this, but those have been far and few between. Myers has had not one, but two concussions in 2016. He missed 6 games in October/November from a brutal hit during a 10/22 against Saint John Sea Dogs. The next came during the U20 World Junior Championship in December where he took another monster hit from Team USA Captain Luke Kunin (who was ejected from the game). Myers was getting top pairing minutes during the tournament and finished with 3 assists in 4 games. Myers last game with Rouyn-Noranda was on 12/9 up until last night’s triumphant return to the lineup! He finished with two assists in the game to bring his point total for the season to 20 (8 G, 12 A) in 20 games.
At this point you just need to cross your fingers that Myers can make it through the rest of the season injury-free (or mostly just concussion-free). He opened a lot of eyes with an impressive training camp and preseason back in September. It isn’t completely out of the question that Myers could force the issue this September and make the jump directly to the NHL next season.
— Jay Polinsky
No. 7: Anthony Stolarz - G, Lehigh Valley, AHL
For all the ink spilled (digitally and in real life) about the massive steps forward the Flyers have taken in terms of their pool of defensive prospects in the past five years or so, you could easily say that they’ve done just as much, if not more, to replenish their supply of quality young goaltending talent. We’ve already profiled three other goalies in this series, and three others in various leagues around the world that didn’t make the cut have some promise as well. But right now the head of the class is still Anthony Stolarz, whose third year with the Phantoms has also seen him make his NHL debut.
The Flyers were clearly reticent to put Stolarz on NHL ice in 2015-16 — he was called up on several occasions due to various injuries to Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, but never actually played in a game during his time in Philadelphia. But this year, Stolarz made two starts and another backup appearance in his time with the Flyers, and even though it would’ve been nice to see him get a couple more chances to play, Stolarz held his own and then some, even posting a shutout in a start in Detroit. While Alex Lyon has actually gotten the majority of the starts in Lehigh Valley this year, due largely to that time spent in Philadelphia by Stolarz, there’s little doubt that the 23-year old New Jersey native is the guy that the Flyers see as closest to NHL-ready in their system, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Ron Hextall and company are mentally penciling him in to a backup role with the Flyers next year.
So with that, I think it’s fair to ask: exactly how good is Stolarz, anyways? The highlight of his pro career so far was the first half of his 2015-16 campaign, which was objectively great. Stolarz posted a .928 save percentage in October through December of 2015, keeping the Phantoms in a lot of games that they probably shouldn’t have been in. But he slowed down in the second half of last year, and in this season — his third AHL season — he’s posted a save percentage of .911, a fairly average if unspectacular mark that also represents a slight step back from his performance last season. In fact, as of this writing, he’s got almost the save percentage as Lyon, who is a year older than Stolarz but is also in his first year in the AHL.
With a slightly better season than the one he’s having now, Stolarz would probably be all but locked in to a role with the Flyers next year — and given their uncertainty and potential cap situation, he’s probably still the clubhouse favorite to emerge from camp next year with the NHL team. But it’s fair to say things have stagnated a bit, and you wonder if the organization was maybe hoping for him to take a bigger step forward and show that what he did in the first half of 2015-16 is who he can be long-term. Despite that, Stolarz is still the most NHL-ready young goalie they have available, and is probably going to get a crack at proving he can be the team’s next long-term answer at goalie within the next couple of years unless things take a turn for the worse. But there are never any locks when it comes to goalies or young player development, and Stolarz’s path shows the uncertainty in trying to project both.
— Kurt R.
No. 6: Oskar Lindblom - F, Brynas, SHL
Since the turn of the century, the Philadelphia Flyers have received positive contributions from all of one player who was drafted in the fifth round or later — Roman Cechmanek, way back in 2000. Sure, the team did draft Dennis Seidenberg (6th round, 2001) and Patrick Maroon (6th, 2007), but neither was able to stick with the Flyers as other teams benefited from the fruits of their labor. About the closest thing Philadelphia had to a “late-round contributor” was Zac Rinaldo, but there’s a very strong case to be made that he actually provided negative on-ice value to the club over his 237-game Flyers career. The back end of the draft has essentially been a desolate wasteland for Philadelphia in the recent past, littered with Michael Duponts and Josh Beaulieus. That’s why Oskar Lindblom’s recent rise has been especially satisfying — finally, the Flyers look like they will get a true NHL contributor from a late-round pick.
Lindblom wasn’t some unknown “diamond in the rough” prospect back in 2014, though. In fact, in the year preceding the draft, Lindblom was viewed as a potential first round pick. However, concerns regarding his skating ability especially drove him down draft boards, to the point where Philadelphia was able to scoop him up in the fifth round. For the next two years, he stayed somewhat under-the-radar despite performances that probably deserved more attention. In many ways, Lindblom suffered from unfair comparisons between production in Canadian junior hockey leagues and in a European league filled with grown men. 40 points in 85 games over two seasons doesn’t seem all that impressive at first glance, especially since many of Lindblom’s peers were posting point per game seasons in the OHL and WHL at the same time. But earning a full-time role in the SHL at ages 18 & 19, scoring at a decent clip, and standing out in every age-appropriate international tournament during that span isn’t that far off statistically from an impressive post-draft run in juniors — it just feels like it is because the raw numbers don’t jump off the page.
Lindblom finally started to turn heads late last season, when he came over to North America on a tryout basis to spend the final weeks of the AHL season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. In eight games, he scored at nearly a point-per-game clip (two goals, five assists) and generally looked like one of the best forwards on the ice at all times. He followed that up with a standout development camp, where his skating issues (obvious in previous camps) seemed a thing of the past. But the real reason why Lindblom has skyrocketed up these rankings has been his stellar play in the SHL as a 20-year old. In 42 games, he has 38 points, easily leading his club and good for third in the entire league. Don’t forget that this isn’t a junior hockey league — it’s a professional league filled with grown men that Lindblom is dominating. The two players currently ahead of Lindblom in the scoring race are 28 and 33 respectively, and not one currently in the top-10 is younger than 24. For reference, the last time a player 21 or younger finished in the top-three in SHL scoring was back in 2011-12, when Jakub Silfverberg finished second. It doesn’t happen often, and when it does, that guy is usually going places.
Sure, one can note that the truly elite Swedish prospects usually come over to North America earlier than age-20, taking them out of the SHL pool. And it’s fair to have some reservations regarding Lindblom’s overall skillset, which while complete, isn’t exactly dynamic. But at some point, the raw production cannot be denied, in tandem with his clear skating improvements and development in all-around talent. Lindblom is comfortable creating chances in traffic, showcases soft hands around the net, and flashes plus hockey sense in all three zones. And while NHL Equivalency charts are far from perfect, it’s notable that per the most recent translation factors, Lindblom would be projected to score about 44 points in the NHL, which is easily top-six winger territory. He has little left to prove in the SHL, so the best guess is that Lindblom will finally sign an entry-level contract at the end of the season and cross the ocean permanently. Whether his 2017-18 season begins in Lehigh Valley or Philadelphia will be entirely up to his performance in camp, but you certainly can’t rule out the possibility that Oskar Lindblom is skating in the Flyers’ top-nine come October. Not bad for a fifth round pick.
— Charlie O’Connor
How We Voted: 10 to 6
|10||Nick Cousins||Taylor Leier||Robert Hagg||German Rubtsov||German Rubtsov||Nick Cousins||Anthony Stolarz||Carter Hart||Scott Laughton||Nick Cousins|
|9||German Rubtsov||Anthony Stolarz||Scott Laughton||Anthony Stolarz||Anthony Stolarz||Samuel Morin||German Rubtsov||Taylor Leier||Jordan Weal||Anthony Stolarz|
|8||Scott Laughton||Robert Hagg||Anthony Stolarz||Nick Cousins||Samuel Morin||Oskar Lindblom||Samuel Morin||Oskar Lindblom||Philippe Myers||Oskar Lindblom|
|7||Oskar Lindblom||Travis Sanheim||Nick Cousins||Philippe Myers||Philippe Myers||Anthony Stolarz||Scott Laughton||Jordan Weal||Oskar Lindblom||Samuel Morin|
|6||Philippe Myers||Samuel Morin||Samuel Morin||Travis Sanheim||Travis Sanheim||Philippe Myers||Oskar Lindblom||Nick Cousins||Travis Sanheim||Philippe Myers|